Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 25, 1957

Is it me, or does the idea of burying a time capsule at the New York State Fair seem like a bit of an oxymoron? I mean, how nostalgic can it be to unearth a decades-old time capsule when the top pop groups of the era are most likely playing at Chevy Court or the Grandstand? I know, I know, the person who started a blog to lament the loss of Syracuse past disrespecting the 162 year old fair is a bit of an oxymoron itself, but to me, growing up, it always seemed what the Fair was passing off as tradition came across more like lack of imagination. I suppose if Syracuse--or my life--had been hard-charging and chaotic for the other 50 1/2 weeks of the year, then I could have appreciated the sameness of the Fair experience as a constant, like classic comfort food, but as Syracuse itself seemed static and stuck in (post-urban renewal) time during my childhood/teenage years, the Fair came across as a celebration of the safety of routine.

Plus, it signified the end of summer, and that always sucked.

In 1957, though, the Railroad Committee of Central New York had change on their minds, and decided to have at least one new exhibit for 2007 - the opening of a time capsule. According to an August 25, 1957 article in the Post-Standard, the Committee expected to receive predictions of American life and rail transportation in the year 2007 from President Eisenhower, New York Governor W. Averell Harriman, and leaders of New York State industries and government. To make certain that the capsule was not lost, the rail committee would "place a marker and moving hooks on the cement encasement."

As far as I know, this time capsule was not unearthed at last year's Fair (Bowzer's Ultimate Doo Wop Party notwithstanding). Perhaps this is because, unlike the last time capsule discovery (which has since been duly noted by the Onondaga Historical Association), it's rather questionable whether this time capsule was even buried. There are no further mentions of the capsule in any newspaper. Also, the article specifically states that predictions were "expected" from various leaders. As the 1957 fair began five days later after the publication of this article (August 30-September 7, 1957), shouldn't they have had this information by August 25?

It's probably just as well that it wasn't dug up (or even buried), because what a midway buzzkill it would be to have to hear predictions of high-speed and maglev trains criss-crossing the country at speeds up to 300 mph. On the other hand, train travel was well on the decline by 1957, as the Interstate Highway System had been authorized the year before, and the automobile was the main means of passenger transport. The trolleys in Syracuse had been gone for fifteen years. The Cold War was in full swing: the capsule itself was made of Pyroceram, so that "neither termites nor hydrogen bombs [would] be a threat to destruction." Given that August 1957 was a mere three months prior to the Sputnik launch, and that the theme of the 1957 NY State Fair was "today's youth--tomorrow's industry" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 29, 1957), it's quite possible that the leaders of the time saw grander transportation visions, such as:
  • "vertical landing and takeoff of all vehicles" (A prediction for transit in the the 1970s by Metropolitan Development Association president John Searles, The Post-Standard, January 27, 1969)
  • A downtown Syracuse heliport, to make possible rapid transport to downtown from Hancock Field, as "it seems a safe prediction by 1970, local helicopter service will be possible between Syracuse and such nearby communities as Rochester, Oswego, Watertown, Utica, Binghamton, Ithaca, Elmira, Geneva, Canandaigua and others."(Councilman Williams S. Andrews, quoted in the Syracuse Herald-American, April 18, 1965)
  • "Underground or overhead railed mass transit systems or improved buses, with flexibility to run on tracks or normal highways." (John Searles, with more predictions for transit in the 70s, The Post-Standard, January 27, 1969)
  • A statewide network of monorails, establishing "rights-of-way throughout the state, following major highway and railroad routes." The system, as proposed by Utica warehouse operator Gale A. Lytle, Sr. and Syracuse engineer John J. Barry, would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with shuttle buses running from downtowns and suburban areas to monorail stations. Lyle believed that the high-speed system would serve 80% of the New York population, and could travel from Buffalo to New York City in a little over three hours. There would be two major routes: one connecting Albany to Buffalo (and Canada), and the other would be a "scenic route" that would run through the Adirondacks from Utica to Montreal using the old Pennsylvania railroad right-of-way. Lyle and Barry thought that the monorail could be completed in two to three years, using highway contractors working on highway projects that would be cancelled in order to build the monorail. (The Post-Standard, June 17, 1971; Syracuse Herald-American, February 17, 1974)
  • A station-wagon rigged with railroad wheels, riding the Erie Lackawanna tracks from the State Fairgrounds through downtown and out to Jamesville during the evening commute, as part of an experiment for the importance of commuter rail transit spearheaded by Democratic candidate for city Common Councilman-at-Large Lee Alexander. Reporters rode along in the station wagon (substituting for a rail car) for "a ride so easy it was dull." Alexander expressed concern that the "Onondaga Interchange," then under construction, would only be the beginning of a city covered with highways and traffic jams. According to Alexander. Erie Lackawanna officials expressed a willingness to lease the tracks, and money was available under the National Transportation Act. (Syracuse Herald-American, October 16, 1966).
  • "Budd cars", available for loan from manufacturers, used on an experimental basis on the New York Central and Erie Lackawanna tracks. In a direct request to City Council President Roy D. Simmons, Councilman-at-Large Lee Alexander asked that a special Council committee be named to study the the "transportation crisis," as "a mass transit system capable of moving thousands of people through the city comfortably and efficiently...[was a] necessary factor for the survival of metropolitan centers such as Syracuse." The cars could be purchased via federal government funds specified for such a purpose, and inexpensive parking areas could be established in the suburbs, allowing commuters to ride the train for a reasonable fare into downtown. Alexander further stated that "a city's failure to provide a mass transit system compels the use of autos as the only means of transportation. If the auto remains the only available means of transportation, then we can expect greater reductions in our tax rolls as more and more space is devoted to highways and parking lots." (The Post-Standard, January 4, 1967, Syracuse Herald-Journal, February 13, 1967)
  • As "an insurance for the future," doing studies on the steps that need to be taken for acquiring the existing railroad rights-of-way and holding them in case they are ever needed. (The mass transit committee of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Syracuse Herald-American, January 29, 1967)
  • Purchasing abandoned railroad rights-of-way and saving them for future use. If not used for transit purposes, rights-of-way could be used as "hiking trails, bicycle and bridle paths and for other recreation purposes." (A request made by seven state senators to Governor Rockefeller, The Post-Standard, March 24, 1967)
  • Reestablishing the trolley routes, but with electric trackless trolleys - buses with electric motors that receive their power from overhead wires, as the original Syracuse trolleys did. County Legislator John J. Haley believed that with increasing gas prices, people would be driving less, and diesel costs would be prohibitive for buses. New water-powered electricity generating facilities under construction in Canada would mean cheaper electricity for Syracuse, and capital costs of building the overhead wires could be supported by a Federal grant through the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. (The Post-Standard, February 27, 1980)
  • A light rail system from northern Oswego and Onondaga communities to downtown Syracuse (Centro chief Warren Frank, discussing the future of transit in Syracuse, Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 19, 1980)
  • A monorail or "series of gondolas" that would travel between the Carrier Dome, Hotel Syracuse and downtown. Under Centro chief Warren Frank's plan, the monorail could start travel through the Hotel Syracuse (similar to Disneyworld's monorail), as well as fifth floors of the Carrier Tower and MONY tower. Stops would then include the Civic Center and the War Memorial, before moving on to the hospital complex on Adams Street, and the Carrier Dome, "perhaps into a lobby." Several skybridges would also be built across Warren Street, to tie into the skybridges crossing South Salina Street. Eighty percent of the system would be built with federal dollars, and the rest with state and local funds. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, March 20, 1979)
And even if the ideas weren't similar to these, you have to think that if all the President, Governors, and leaders of industry could come up with was Amtrak and OnTrack, they wouldn't have bothered with the state-of-the-art time capsule. Civilization is destroyed due to a hydrogen bomb, and a failing/failed rail system is what would be left as a blueprint for transportation to any possible future generations?

Exactly fifty-one years after the time capsule mention, the Post-Standard once again printed an article regarding rail and the New York State Fair. In Sean Kirst's column on August 25, 2008, several Syracusans discussed their hopes and dreams for Syracuse with Kirst at this year's Fair. Once fairgoer lamented the loss of OnTrack, which he felt "with a little more imagination, could have been a tool to energize downtown." Democratic candidate for Congress Dan Maffei expressed a wish for a high-speed rail line between the Upstate cities and New York City. While Mr. Maffei's campaign slogan is a "A New Congressman, A New Direction," the wish for a high-speed line between the cities, is, unfortunately (as you can read above), not very new at all. But perhaps this time, the new direction can be this: before the speeches, before the studies, head to the Center of Progress at the New York State Fair. Not the building with the Ginsu knife and shower cleaner demonstrations, but the true Center of Progress: the location of this time capsule, if there's the slightest chance it is there. Unjaded by fifty years of mass transit rejections and failures, perhaps these buried predictions can get us on the right track again.


Anonymous said...

Awesome. Thanks for your time invested researching and writing that!

Is there an easy way to access these old newspapers?

Syracuse B4 said... - it's a subscription service, which is why I can't include links to the articles